Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January revivals: small list

Hi all, Mike here with a short revival list for the month of January. Very short list, as in a three film list. Sorry, but life is getting in the way now, so on with the list we go:

THE THIRD MAN (1949/1950) and THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947/48)- Fri Jan 23 at 8:25 (Man) and 10:30 (Lady)- Film Forum- A double feature from the Forum's Orson Welles retrospective; both for one admission. Plays for two days and nights, but  I'm only posting the night screenings for Friday, January 23rd. If the Saturday day/night screenings on Saturday, January 24th, are the only ones you can do, go for it. Note that Lady From Shanghai is a restored DCP, while Third Man will be a 35mm screening.

First, The Third Man, from 1949. Though in America, it came out in 1950, where it would rise to classic status at about the exact same time as Sunset Blvd., All About Eve and Harvey. Talk about when being the third or fourth best film of that particular year meant a lot more than usual. Seriously, it's seems to me to be among the least seen of all the post silent flim era flicks I would label classic, at least stateside. As the older audience dies out, younger ones may not know it. But once they see it, boom, it's got them, and they'll probably see it everytime it comes on TCM as well. Film students must also have to see this at least once I would imagine. If not, then it's probably not all that reputable a film school.

Simple fish out of water story, where American Joseph Cotton, who seems to hold black belts in screwups and stumbling blindly into situations, attends a funeral for his friend in post-war divided Vienna. And yet things, as usual in these kind of film noirs, are not what they appear to be. Thus, what I said about the story being simple, eeeeehhhhh, not so much. The film seems to exist entirely in states of gray, with camera angles that seem to have made it the Blair Witch Project of its day.

Standing out in the colorful supporting cast are Trevor Howard with what appears to be a permanent British stiff upper lip, and Alida Valli, who can keep many men's interest, but keeps pining for the one who treats her like shit. And, oh yeah, Orson Welles; who brought charm, gravitas, and the memorable, though historically inaccurate, cuckoo clock monologue. The only part of the film not written by Graham Greene, who adapted his book with some uncredited help.

Oh yeah, he didn't write the ending either. Director Carol Reed didn't like the book's ending, but still wasn't sure what to do. But he came up with a solution, over Greene's objections. At the end of shooting, just placed his camera and himself far away so the actors couldn't hear him say cut, and let it roll. Whatever would be, would be. Hey, it worked.

An Oscar for the black and white cinematography, nominations for Editing and Reed for Director. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes, on the first AFI Top 100 list (though not the second!), number one on Britain's similar film list, Japan's number one film on it's own similar list of non-Japanese films, and in my personal top 100. Not sure where exactly, but it's somewhere. It would be higher in my mind if there wasn't so much zither music. Yes, it fits, and after 60 years, we can't exactly do anything about that now, but still. That damn zither theme can still pop into my head from time to time. Despite that, you will enjoy it, whether you've seen it a bunch of times, or for the first time.

Next is The Lady From Shanghai, from 1948. Orson plays an Irish sailor (dialect questionable, later abandoned) who save platinum blond Rita Hayworth from muggers. In gratitude, her husband, a rich criminal lawyer (Everett Sloane-Citizen Kane) hires him to be their seaman for a cruise from New York to San Francisco, cutting through the Panama Canal. Now if you know film noirs, you can imagine how much a femme fatale Hayworth's character could be, and you can imagine, and the twist and turns that come right at you.

But here, the twists and turns feel far more out of nowhere. Partly due to the script, and partly because after a disastrous preview, Columbia Pictures took the film away from Welles, and came up with their own edit. An edit where numerous re -writes and re-shoots blew up the film's budget. The blame for this would fall to Welles, even though he had nothing to do with it, since his original cut came on time and on budget. The Lady From Shanghai flopped in the U.S. with both critics and audiences, and gave a permanent black mark to Welles' Hollywood reputation. But it gained respect and an audience in Europe. Below is a recent quote from a film website that I don't remember. Sorry, but in my haste to cut and paste the paragraph, I missed who I should give credit to. Google on your if you want: 

After the release of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI ('48), "friends avoided me," Orson Welles told filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. "Whenever [the film] was mentioned, people would clear their throats and change the subject very quickly out of consideration for my feelings. I only found out that it was considered a good picture when I got to Europe. The first nice thing I ever heard about it from an American was from Truman Capote. One night in Sicily, he quoted whole pages of dialogue word for word."

So yes, thanks to European critics/audiences, plus TV viewings over the years, The Lady From Shanghai did gain some sort of cult status here. In part because of good casting, though Hayworth has little to do but look good. In part because of the enjoyably stylized way this story is told. In part because a chunk of the dialogue is funny, intentionally funny as opposed to Welles's wandering accent. And in part because of the fantastic Hall of Mirrors climax; a scene that would heavily influence the likes of Enter The Dragon, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and almost any film that plays with funhouse mirrors:

ANNIE HALL (1977)- Fri Jan 30 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image- Part of the Moving Images's Gordon Willis retrospectives. In honor of the great cinematographer who died last May. Not all of his films, just the very best of an illustrious career. I won't have time for some films I've caught from previous revival lists, such as Interiors, Klute, and the first two Godfather films. And as much as I would love to catch the likes of The Parallax View and Broadway Danny Rose, I'm afraid I will miss those screenings as well. There's a chance I can see something from the end of the series, but for now, there's Annie Hall.

Now for years, I waffled back and forth between which film was my favorite of Woody Allen's career, Annie Hall or Manhattan. While the borough of Manhattan has never been more beautifully captured on film with Manhattan, and it should be seen on either the big screen or at least on a 50"-70" TV screen, Annie Hall became my number Allen film back in June 2012. Superior dialogue, best use of Diane Keaton, and a marvel in editing, especially considering the much longer murder mystery story this was a part of.

But that's about all I'll say about this film. Blah blah, Woody Allen's best film right along with Manhattan. Blah blah, on both AFI Top 100 lists and in my own personal top 100. Blah Blah, Multiple Oscar winner including Best Picture. Blah blah, Diane Keaton becomes movie icon and feminist icon of all time. Blah blah, the Annie Hall character was to women then as Juno is to young women right now. Blah blah, one of the best romantic comedies ever made, despite the dramatic/sad tinges to it. Blah blah, just see it, all right

Let me know if there's interest, later all.